WD TV Live Plus Media PlayerManufacturer:
Western DigitalMSRP: $149.99 Lowest Historical Price: $120 HistoryIntroduction
Following up on the very popular WD TV Live, Western Digital rolled out the WD TV Live Plus last week â€” a revision that looks identical to the previous version in size, shape and form factor. While the transition from their first generation player to the WD TV Live was a giant leap into network connectivity for their expansive list of file support, the transition to the WD TV Live Plus doesn't feel as accomplished in comparison. Click on to read my full impressions of the player.Unboxing and First Impressions
If you own a WD TV Live, you're going to have a hard time telling the two players apart. They're identical in design and each comes with the same accessories. When opening the box, you'll find the WV TV Live Plus player and the small remote on the top tray. After lifting out the top tray, the AC Adaptor, two AAA batteries, the component video cable and the composite video cable are found in the lower tray. Identical to the WD TV Live yet again, there's no HDMI cable, optical cable or Ethernet cable included in the package.
The actual player is very small and will likely be the most compact piece of hardware in your home theater setup. The hardware is barely wider than the length of an iPhone 3G. It can be stood up on the thin sides to allow for easy access to the USB port or flat down like your other components. The remote is small as well, slightly shorter than an iPhone 3G. The buttons feel a bit cramped, and there's no back-lit feature on the remote to see it in a darkened theater room.Specifications
The hardware dimensions are approximately 1.5" by 4" by 5", and it weighs less than a pound. The unit comes with 2 USB 2.0 ports (one on the back panel and one on the side), 1 HDMI 1.3 port, 1 Ethernet port, 1 optical cable port and the two 3.5mm jacks designed for the composite AV out / component out. Regarding video file compatibility, the WD TV Live Plus can play AVI, MPG/MPEG, VOB, MKV, TS/TP/M2T, MP4/MOV, M2TS and WMV9. Many of the video file formats have specific restrictions if you're trying to play 1080p video files over 30fps. The unit also supports MP3, WAV/PCM/LPCM, WMA, AAC, FLAC, MKA, AIF/AIFF, OGG, Dolby Digital, DTS audio files and JPEG, GIF, TIF/TIFF, BMP, PNG picture files. Review
The reason behind the release of the new WD TV Live Plus is mainly the addition of new audio / video services that they could not include in a firmware update to the previous version of the hardware. Basically, there are now encrypted "keys" internally that can be used when new services are rolled out -- Netflix, for instance. Netflix is fully compatible on the WD TV Live Player, and the interface is very similar to the Netflix iPad application. Movies can be added / deleted from the queue and the "instant streaming" movies can be selected immediately.
As of right now, Netflix is the only service that Western Digital has rolled out. I spoke with representatives at Western Digital and asked about the obvious elephant in the room, Hulu. No comment obviously. It's unlikely that Hulu would roll out support without wanting to get paid, though. The representatives did mention that other services are on their way, just not available at this time. Similar to the previous model, you're still going to find Pandora, Youtube, Flickr and Live365 support built in.
I had no problem streaming Netflix into my home theater, although this is the third device in my system that I have that capability with. One glaring issue that didn't get addressed in this WD TV revision is internal Wi-Fi hardware. You're still required to purchase a Wi-Fi dongle for wireless access. I'm glad WD is expanding their compatibility for those adapters, but it still uses up a USB port and it's an extra cost.
Beyond allowing for new services to be added in the life cycle of the Live Plus, Western Digital also added ISO support and improved DVD menu support. If you rip all of your DVDs to a media server or perhaps just a hard drive, you can navigate through the menus with the WD TV Live Plus. The new hardware also includes compatibility with Windows 7's pushing capability. Simply put, you can "send" a file to the WD TV Live Plus from your computer and it streams over the network. (This is also available to the WD TV Live in a firmware update.)Conclusion
If you own a WD TV Live, should you upgrade to the Plus? Probably not. With Netflix already on the current gaming consoles and many new Blu-ray players, it's hard to justify an upgrade based on streaming services. That being said, you will be hard-pressed to find any piece of hardware that has such a large amount of file compatibility and offers immediate playback through the simple GUI. During my tests, I didn't find any formats that it couldn't handle. For anyone new to the WD TV Live series, the Plus is definitely worth picking up if you're looking for a "lite" version of a HTPC. For deal hunters, Western Digital is planning to keep both units on the market at this time. Look for discounts on last year's version
(now priced around $100).Image Gallery